January 10, 2005

Blown Calls

I was watching an English Premier League match last week, and it brought to mind a Piers Anthony book, of all things.

For those of you who didn't have your life force totally drained by that first sentence, I'll explain. My adopted favorite team, Tottenham Hotspur, was visiting Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United. Now I've adopted Tottenham because I loved how they kept fighting back in one of the most amazing soccer games I've witnessed, a 5-4 loss to Arsenal around the beginning of December. The announcer kept saying, "And *another* goal for Tot'nam!". So I went around the house saying "Tot'nam!" for a while.

Anyway, since that time, Tottenham has been on a roll, moving up from the bottom half of the table by winning 7 of 8 matches, mostly against subpar teams. Last week, they took on 5th place Everton and dominated, so I figure they are for real and maybe have a chance to place in the top four, thus go on to the European Champions' League. Visiting Man U was a huge test. They've lost there each year (except for one draw) for 15 consecutive years. And they were up against it this time, too, because Man U has been just as hot as the Spurs over the past couple of months.

Manchester outshot Tottenham for the whole game and seemed constantly on the attack, but Tottenham kept trying an opportunistic game, pitching the ball way forward and hoping their meager one or two forwards could weave their way through four or five stout Manchester defenders. You could see how frustrated the poor forwards were, being so outmanned, but the Tottenham defense couldn't spare a player. Anyway, with about ten minutes to go, it looked like Tottenham would escape with a 0-0 draw, which would be a minor miracle.

The Man U keeper, who had been trash-talking earlier in the game, came really far out of goal to help press the attack, but there was a quick turnover. While the keeper was running back, a Tottenham player lobbed a shot from midfield. The keeper got back to his line just in time to catch it, but he muffed it, and the ball bounced back into the goal. It was unreal. What was more unreal was that the goalie jumped back into the net and slapped the ball out after it had already bounced a foot or two behind the goal line. I could see it in real time, and it was an obvious goal, but the ref and the linesman didn't see it, and play continued.

As you might imagine, Tottenham was outraged, and the players harassed the refs at every opportunity even after the match was over. The ref kind of gave one back to Tottenham, though, by awarding a free kick outside the penalty box instead of a penalty kick for a clear trip that happened inside the box. But then the trip probably wouldn't have happened if the Tottenham side hadn't been playing frustrated and on tilt because of the injustice at the other end. Since then, the call has gone up (I gather this happens every couple of months or so just like other sports here) for instant replay, at least regarding goals, and the powers that be will officially consider it, blah blah blah.

So then I remembered a Piers Anthony series that was good enough to stick in my memory since I was a teenager, and that is the trilogy known as "The Apprentice Adept". The three novels are called "Split Infinity", "Blue Adept" and "Juxtaposition". The setting is two parallel worlds, one called Proton and the other Phaze. On Proton, a futuristic, technological society, there is a hierarchy that allows you to become part of the aristocracy if you win at the Games.

The Game is a neat little device. You find a willing opponent, and you each use a computerized grid to narrow down your choice of games, trying to pick to your strength or your opponent's weakness, until the computer finally picks. Sometimes the game is as simple as a slot machine pull. Sometimes it is chess. Sometimes it involves riddles, or ping pong. In one case, the protagonist (Stile) has to play quarterback for a football team full of robots. He is about to lose, but the computerized referee bungles a perfectly easy call, which gives Stile the win.

Stile thinks the game is somehow fixed, but then he discovers that in order to properly simulate real football, the computer is programmed to screw up at least one major call every game, and that happened to be the one. It's a neat little story to read and it makes you think of instant replay in a whole new way. Me, I'm all for instant replay, as long as any decision can cause no more than about a 60 second delay in the game and can end up being the right decision at least 75% of the time (NFL doesn't meet either standard). I could live without it, because it is inescapable that luck and injustice is a part of the game, and after a long time of being frustrated by that, I've come to accept it (I wish I could accept how umpires call balls and strikes in baseball).

Anyway, as far as the trilogy goes, Stile is introduced to the parallel fantasy/magic world and eventually discovers he is someone of import there. That's because his counterpart has been murdered and now it is assumed Stile will take his place, but someone is also trying to kill Stile in his original world... So it gets complicated because Stile and his stalker keep hopping back and forth between worlds. It's a combination of science fiction and fantasy then, and pretty good for a teenage reader. I mean, any book with computer games, magic, sports and oh-so-willing lovely female robots (and people) is going to be geared toward teenage boys, like most Anthony stuff. As an example of the genre, though, this series stuck with me more than just about any other simply because of all the neat ideas.

And Tottenham plays top-ranked Chelsea this weekend. Should be a good one.

Posted by Observer at January 10, 2005 07:12 AM
Comments

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So ... tron? With different and/or more games?

Posted by: Polerand on January 10, 2005 03:19 PM

They don't play the games on physical grids. They way they pick the game that will resolve a challenge involves grids. On the vertical, you might have a spectrum of choices from "physical" to "mental" while on the horizontal, you have a spectrum of "all luck" to "all skill". Each contestant, without the other seeing, picks from one randomly assigned axis, and then the grid narrows down to that chosen subcategory. After three or four rounds of this, the computer picks the game for you.

When I say technological society, I mean it is still controlled by humans (rather than the all-powerful CPU), but there are lots of robots, automated conveniences, etc. Oh, and everybody is naked except the upper class. You know how Anthony is.

Posted by: Observer on January 10, 2005 03:49 PM

I slipped a mental cog this summer and re-read his "Bio of a Space Tyrant" series last summer. Meant to blog about it, don't think I ever did. Anyway, I thought I'd catch a bunch of missed references, and I did, but that didn't offset how ludicrous it all was.

NEVER re-read anything by Piers Anthony.

Posted by: Humbaba on January 10, 2005 05:43 PM

I'll have to review Space Tyrant sometime. I plowed through that a long time ago. Basically, I would only recommend Anthony to a teenager, except maybe the "Incarnations of Immortality", which is college-worthy. I'll review that one sometime, too. And Xanth, for that matter.

Posted by: Observer on January 10, 2005 08:32 PM

For the sake of completeness, I finished this series once I discovered there were four more titles available at Half-Price Books. The last four are "Out of Phase", "Robot Adept", "Unicorn Point" and "Phaze Doubt". There was a lot more needlessly complex plotting (and too many characters) in the last four books, which essentially deal with the next generation after the original trilogy.

For two whole books, the entire plot hinges on the fact that the good guys feel a sense of obligation to help out the bad guys. If just once, they stop and say, ok look, we may have to cut an ethical corner here, but it is clearly for the greater good of the entire world, then the series ends.

The last book tries to delve into too much sci-fi gibberish to justify all the strange actions taken throughout, and the whole nature of the series changes from a Phase-Proton good guys-bad guys conflict into an alien invasion storyline that really felt tacked on.

I'm the kind of personality (INFJ) that has to finish things (that's the "J" part), and that's about the only way I can explain why I finished this series. I would still recommend the first trilogy, mildly, but the rest of it is too "busy" and too ... inappopriate (?) ... for kids younger than college age. By the time a person would grow to the maturity needed to handle this sort of novel, follow what's going on, etc., they would hopefully have the good sense to avoid it anyway.

Posted by: Observer on February 25, 2005 11:33 PM